by Liza Simon
The Kim Trading Company at 1127 Maunakea St. in the heart of Honolulu’s Chinatown is one of those Asian import stores guaranteed to send your senses swirling in a way that slicker emporiums simply cannot. Just a few feet into an aisle and you’ve already browsed past lacquer pigs, wooden ducks, ceramic Buddhas and dolphins, alabaster horses and crystal lotus flowers. Further back, amidst wind chimes and incense clouds, you come across more expensive items like freshwater pearls and Austrian crystals displayed alongside high-camp stuff like a lava lamp with hula dancer dolls inside. By this time you’re likely thinking, "What would anyone do with this stuff?"
photo by Kyle Rothenborg
Enter store proprietor Mr. Trung Do from behind the dragon. Make that an intricately carved, florid dragon that "helps people," Mr. Do cheerily assures you, explaining that in Asia, dragons are "good, not bad." All smiles, he asks, "Do you know about feng shui?" Before you can answer, he leads you to the decorative fountains whose electrically pumped babbling brooks are intended to have the same purifying effect on domestic life as the water vases that Chinese traditionally position in the front of their homes. If you prefer a vase, those are also for sale. "Main thing is make water run for correction of bad things," Mr. Do advises. Either he’s a great salesman or the stuff truly is absolute magic—or maybe it’s both those things. Certainly, the steady stream of shoppers seems very savvy about the value—both financial and metaphysical—of what’s offered here.
Next stop on the impromptu tour comes at the porcelain statues of the three kings. Their function? "Good for happiness, longevity and luck." For members of the Do family, who have run a string of businesses in Chinatown since coming to Hawaii from Vietnam more than twenty years ago, Kim Trading is, no doubt, a cache of good luck.
Kim Trading Company